DENVER — Meet the newest campaign issue for House Democrats: Todd Akin.
From Colorado to New Hampshire to Illinois, Democrats already are using the incendiary comments about rape made by the Missouri congressman and Republican Senate candidate as a political bludgeon. In interviews, news releases and tweets, they've blasted Akin for saying victims of "legitimate rape" are able to naturally prevent pregnancy and tried to tie their opponents to legislation he's supported.
Those moves might only be the beginning, as Akin has so far refused to drop out of the race despite pleas from top Republicans, including GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney, and the widespread condemnation of his remarks.
"People are disgusted and appalled," said Joe Miklosi, a Democratic congressional candidate in suburban Denver, who began tying his opponent, GOP Rep. Mike Coffman, to Akin within hours of learning about his comments this past Sunday.
Miklosi sent a tweet that read, "Mike Coffman and Todd Akin have been fighting side by side against women in Congress," and posted a video online that included footage of Akin praising Coffman on the House floor.
Coffman responded by calling for Akin to leave the race and decrying his rape comments as "wrong, inappropriate and hurtful to women across the country."
It's a scene repeated in House races nationwide, as Akin's comments on rape are playing a role in more than a dozen House races in battleground states – particularly those in which the incumbents joined Akin last year in co-sponsoring a resolution that would have redefined rape as "forcible rape."
Most Democrats and women's groups objected to such language, because it suggested there are different severities of rape.
In New Hampshire, Annie Kuster rapped one of the Democrats' top targets, GOP Rep. Charlie Bass, saying she was "disappointed" Bass hadn't yet called for Akin to leave the Senate race. Bass quickly did so. In Illinois, another Democratic challenger, Cheri Bustos, called on her opponent, GOP Rep. Bobby Schilling, to return a $2,000 donation from Akin. Schilling did so and issued a statement expressing his disgust with Akin's remarks.
"As a father, a husband and a close friend to people who have been scarred by the evils of rape, I could never stand with someone who said something so contrary to our basic human values," he said.
In Wisconsin, Democrat Pat Kreitlow had made an issue of GOP Rep. Sean Duffy's support for legislation defining "forcible rape" even before Akin's comments. That criticism now has new life, Kreitlow said.
"People are simply amazed there are elected officials who would take these positions, to redefine rape," he said. "We were hearing about it in Wisconsin before Akin said this, and of course we're hearing a lot more about it now."
Duffy, meanwhile, followed the path of other Republicans in calling for Akin to drop his Missouri Senate bid and repudiating his comments.
In trying to link Akin to their opponents, Democrats are following a time-honored campaign tradition. When a controversial statement or issue percolates in one race, the party sensing an opportunity will invariably try and make it an issue in as many races as possible, said Jack Pitney, a political science professor at Claremont McKenna College.
"This is politics 101," Pitney said. "You try to tie your opponent to an unpopular one on the other side and let them figure it out."
Pitney questioned for how long Democrats will be successful in making Akin's comments an issue, but Democrats have some reason to believe that it's an election winner to highlight Republicans who oppose abortion even in cases of rape and incest.
In the swing state of Colorado, voters have twice overwhelmingly defeated ballot measures that would have outlawed abortion in all cases, and Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet won a tight Senate contest in 2010 in part by highlighting Republican Ken Buck's views on abortion.
This year, Democratic Rep. Ed Perlmutter, who represents a suburban Denver district, is fending off a challenge from wealthy Republican beer magnate Joe Coors. After Akin's rape remark, Perlmutter reminded voters that Coors once financially supported a "personhood" measure in Colorado and tied Coors to Akin.
"Why won't Joe Coors condemn the recent `legitimate rape' remarks of Rep. Akins that even Mitt Romney criticized?" Perlmutter said in a news release.
Said Coors spokeswoman Michelle Yi, "Joe completely disagrees with Rep. Akin's comments."
Jackson reported from Washington.
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